The Ineffectual Train departs Derby for St Pancras at 16:36. Staff beg you not to catch it. Hang around and catch the five o'clock, they plead (and even the next train after that arrives earlier too). The Ineffectual Train takes almost three hours to reach London, whereas direct services can speed you there in half the time. But I booked onto the Ineffectual Train because it's really cheap - buy in advance and you can ride all 145 miles for six quid. And I also booked because it takes a rare diversion over Britain's longest masonry viaduct, a track-bashing treat enjoyed by only four trains a day, and one of the finest sights in Rutland.
The Ineffectual Train heads south to East Midlands Parkway, the outpost station dominated by eight cooling towers, then dodges Leicester by swinging east onto the line to Melton Mowbray. When Adrian Mole summarised Leicestershire's pastoral landscape in the title of his book Lo! The Flat Hills Of My Homeland, he was not wrong. The next stop is Oakham, county town of Rutland, beyond which a brief glimpse of the county's mega-reservoir can be seen. And then at Manton Junction the Ineffectual Train veers off onto twelve minutes of special track that nobody else gets, including the Welland Viaduct.
This line dates back to the late 1870s when the Midland Railway sought to create an alternative route to London. The broad valley of the River Welland provided an expensive challenge, but an army of navvies moved in and constructed a low brick crossing in two years flat. The Welland Viaduct is just over a kilometre long and supported on 82 arches, and has been a bit of a nightmare tomaintain over the years. It's also never more than 18 metres high, and straight, so alas the one place you can't see the appealing regularity of its structure is from a train. Best go stand nextto it, or grab adrone, but I can at least say I've been over the top.
The Ineffectual Train wasn't busy on my journey south, but a music student nipped on at Oakham and sat opposite. Unfortunately the lady with the trolley shuffled up just as we approached the viaduct and sold him a bottle of water, and then because that didn't meet the minimum contactless threshold sold him a packet of crisps too. This meant that my view to the left was of a rack of snacks, cans and bottles, rather than whatever the upstream valley actually looks like, for the duration of the crossing. So I made do with the view to the right, a patchwork of fields grazed by sheep and post-harvest furrows, with a seemingly insignificant stream wiggling briefly underneath. Atmospherically scenic, but nothing to rush for.
Past what was once Harringworth station, and after a rather long tunnel, the Ineffectual Train swiftly reaches Corby. And here it sits for ten minutes before metamorphosing into just another hourly train to London, like those which have been shuttling south since 2009. But the real misery comes at Kettering, where the Ineffectual Train is scheduled to linger for 23 minutes so that yet another train from Derby can overtake. Go catch that one, pleads the guard, it'll get you into London 23 minutes quicker. That is unless you've got an advance ticket for the Ineffectual Train, in which case you're trapped, and will limp into St Pancras eventually. Best not.
Passenger trains across the Welland Viaduct (Mon-Fri) 0600 Melton Mowbray → London St Pancras 0926 Corby → Derby 1636 Derby → London St Pancras 1800 London St Pancras → Melton Mowbray